QAnon's Brett Kavanaugh conspiracy theory spreads to TMZ

Update (11:56 a.m.): TMZ has pulled its post. An archived version can be viewed here.

Update (12:03 p.m.): TMZ has reposted its article but added language noting, “Earlier, we posted a pic of Hillary with a woman who'd mistakenly been identified as Katz, but it wasn't her.”

Update (1:38 p.m.): The Facebook page of CNN commentator Ben Ferguson shared the TMZ article with the picture misidentifying Debra Katz, writing “BRETT KAVANAUGH, DR. CHRISTINE FORD Lawyers for Both ... STRONG HILLARY CLINTON CONNECTION”

A post on conspiracy theory message board 8chan that claimed Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer was pictured with Hillary Clinton has spread quickly and reached massively popular entertainment website TMZ.

Conspiracy theory researcher Travis View flagged the September 25 8chan post in the message board's QAnon section in which an anonymous user misidentified Debra Katz, who is representing Ford in her report of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. However, the woman in the picture is Hillary Clinton's photographer Barbara Kinney. Kinney confirmed to Media Matters that she is the woman behind Clinton in the photograph.

The mislabeled photo was pushed by several right-wing online fever swamps including YourNewsWire, RedStateWatcher4chan, Big League Politics, and multiple hyperpartisan Facebook pages, including Iphoneconservative, Texas for Donald Trump 2020, President Trump Fans, The SAGE PAGE, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, and Political Correctness Gone Wild. Hosts on two radio stations also pushed the photo on air, misidentifying Katz.

Even though the claim has been thoroughly debunked at this point, TMZ published an article promoting it where it erroneously labeled Katz:

Although known for its stories about celebrities, TMZ has increasingly become a pro-Trump media operation. Founder Harvey Levin now hosts a weekly show on Fox News.

Before reaching TMZ, conservative pundit Erick Erickson had promoted the false claim to his 200,000 followers, writing on Twitter, “Is that actually Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer behind Hillary Clinton? It looks like it”:

Erickson, who some consider to be mainstream and who often appears on prominent Sunday political talk shows, later deleted the tweet and wrote that he was mistaken.

It is unclear though what the photo in question would have even portended -- Katz is considered “the consummate lawyer for the #MeToo movement,” i.e. the type of attorney someone reporting a sexual assault against a powerful person might hire to represent them in face of an inevitable right-wing smear campaign.

The right-wing onslaught to defend Kavanaugh has included several stories that have embarrassingly fallen apart. Right-wing media members previously pushed false claims that misidentified Ford as a different professor and that confused Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and put his penis in her face, with a different person.

This post has been updated with additional examples of where the conspiracy theory spread. This post originally contained a misspelling of Debra Katz' name. We regret the error.